Making marriage harder

A St Valentine’s Day wish to take the law out of romance.

There is nothing wrong with wedding ceremonies, for those who want to do that sort of thing. Ceremonies could be religious or non-religious, and be between mixed-sex or same-sex couples. Indeed, one could have ceremonies involving anyone who was up for a bit of fun.

Nor is there anything wrong with wedding receptions. The key to a successful wedding reception is that the total value of the gifts on the wedding list should exceed the cost of the reception. And for romantics, the wedding reception is a perfect opportunity to meet others with a similar affliction in a comfortable and non-threatening environment.

But there is no need for weddings to have any legal consequences. Many who undergo weddings, for the best of reasons, do not seem to realise the dire legal effects of their actions. For a wedding means that a marriage contract has been entered into.

Every first-year law student used to know that marriage is a form of contract. Indeed, the celebrated case of Bardell v Pickwick reminds us that a legal action could once be brought for breach of a promise to enter such a contract.

Usually with such onerous contracts, both parties should have separate legal advice. I do not mean advice for a prenuptial agreement; I mean legal advice for both parties on entering the nuptial agreement itself.

A commercial transaction of comparable value -- say a share acquisition or a disposal of assets -- would normally be accompanied by lawyerly advice: seeking contractual protections, guarantees, and amounts in escrow. Various adverse outcomes would be discussed with harsh and open realism, and the parties would allocate risks and rights of termination accordingly. And once both parties were properly advised, and had mutually agreed the legal outcomes of various unhappy scenarios, then there would be a cooling-off period of 12 months before the agreement had legal effect.

Indeed, the world would be a far happier place if marriage was harder and divorce easier. There would be far fewer divorce lawyers if there were more marriage lawyers, just as companies that are realistic and well-advised when they negotiate a contract tend not to get bogged down subsequently in messy litigation.

Couples who really want to entrap themselves in a legal relationship, as well as having a marriage ceremony and a nice reception, should be allowed to do so. After all, it does take all sorts.

But one suspects that if the parties were forced to consider the legal consequences of their marriage, fewer would get married. However, those marriages which then did take place would tend to endure happily ever after.

And there's a romantic thought.


David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman. 

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood